University of Southern California

Alexander Jochai
Discovering a Passion
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Graduating Year
Undergrad Institution
Chinvaly, Georgia

After graduating from the University of California San Diego, Alexander Jochai knew he would eventually pursue his MBA. He began preparing himself while working for nearly five years in commercial real estate. Ultimately, he chose USC Marshall because of its reputation, the strength of its network and, most importantly, because of the highly ranked entrepreneurship program here.

"That's what I really came back to school for," he says.

Building a family business

In his first year in the MBA program, Alex started a high-end custom cabinetry company with his father, an expert craftsman. Alex oversees marketing and business development.

Originally from the Republic of Georgia, he and his family emigrated as political refugees in 1993. "We survived two years of the civil war, and finally had to get out when it was too dangerous," he says. They lived for six months in St. Petersburg, Russia, before receiving permission to move to the U.S.

After all his family went through, Alex says, "I'm very excited to take my passion and what I've learned here at Marshall to create something from the ground up for my family and myself."

Fostering economic cooperation

He also used the skills he gained in the program to help advance the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), a confederation of 21 Pacific Rim economies that encourages economic cooperation and free trade among its members. The APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) studies issues of economic importance to the region.

USC Marshall is the only business school whose MBA students conduct research on behalf of ABAC, and Alex was part of the select 15-person team chosen for the 2009 project.

After 12 months of preparation, he and his teammates traveled to Singapore to present at the APEC conference there. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he recalls, "to not only do something that makes that kind of impact, but to be in front of that caliber of people."

Gaining inspiration

When asked about his long-term aspirations, Alex says he and his fellow entrepreneurial classmates are not as driven by specific career goals as by the journey. "For most of us, it's more about discovering our passion. That's why the program here was so powerful. For two years, we saw people who have realized that dream," he adds, referring to the entrepreneurs who were guest speakers at the school. "They have that joy in them and they have that vitality that comes from really following their heart."

As for the short term, Alex says he and his father will be satisfied if they can grow their new company to three or four employees over the next 12 months. "We want to be stable enough to take the time and the resources to try different things and find a niche where we can really expand and thrive."

The company, Stonebelt Cabinets, is located in Huntington Beach, California. "Close enough to the surf," Alex adds with a smile.